Politics

MPs send assisted dying bill to Senate as C-14 deadline looms

The House of Commons may have sent Bill C-14 to the Senate in hopes of a quick passage into law, but widespread criticism of the bill suggests amendments in the Red Chamber could see the bill sent back to the House for another vote.

Any amendments made by Senate will see bill sent back to House for another vote

MPs vote 235-75 to send Bill C-14 to the Senate 2:06

Members of Parliament voted 186 to 137 on Tuesday to send the government's medically assisted dying bill to the Senate in hopes of passing the bill before the Supreme Court of Canada's June 6 deadline.

But some senators have signalled they are unhappy with the bill as drafted, and expect to make amendments that would force the bill back to the Commons for another vote, further delaying its passage.

The Trudeau government says it's holding out hope the Senate will approve the government's proposed bill on doctor-assisted suicide in time to have new legislation passed before next week's deadline.

Dying With Dignity Canada, which objects to the legislation as written, asked senators to take the time required to get the bill right. 

"The bill that was passed today provides no comfort to many Canadians who were promised choice in the face of incredible suffering but whose rights are now at risk," CEO Shanaaz Gokool said. "Now, it's up to representatives in the Senate to show the courage required to correct this injustice."

In February 2015, the high court ruled that a ban on doctor-assisted death was a violation of a patient's rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That ruling gave the government 12 months to put a law in place to govern the practice.

When the Liberals won the October election, the new government went to court to successfully secure an extension to the deadline. The Supreme Court pushed the deadline back another four months. 

A special joint Senate and Commons committee was struck to listen to witnesses and craft the new law.

When Bill C-14 was tabled in Parliament in April, it restricted doctor-assisted death to mentally competent adults who have a serious and incurable illness, disease or disability who are "suffering intolerably" and whose death is "reasonably foreseeable."

MPs voted to send the federal government's medically assisted dying bill to the Senate where it could be amended by senators. (CBC News)

The bill did not include some of the most contentious recommendations from the parliamentary committee's witnesses, including extending the right to die to "mature minors" and the mentally ill, or allowing advance consent for patients with degenerative disorders.

The bill was poorly received by some advocates of assisted dying, who said the proposals did not go far enough, or by critics of the bill, who said it goes too far. 

Making the deadline

Health Minister Jane Philpott has said the government was at risk of missing the deadline and that new legislation was needed "as soon as possible."

"Without legislation in place, health-care providers will not have the legal framework that they require to proceed," Philpott told MPs Monday.

The Canadian Pharmacists Association sent out a release backing the government in its wish to see legislation in place by June 6.

"Bill C-14 strikes the appropriate balance between ensuring Canadians' right to access to assisted dying while providing the necessary protections for health-care professionals who choose to participate in assisted dying," the association said in a statement moments before question period got underway Monday.

Charter compliance

Critics of the bill say it would be better to miss the deadline now and get it right, rather than put a law on the books that would just end up back in the Supreme Court facing another challenge.

Liberal MP Rob Oliphant, the government appointed co-chair of the special committee studying medically assisted death, has also criticized the government's decision to limit the legislation. 

"The [Supreme Court] gave us the possibility of alleviating intolerable suffering, and the bill does not take sufficient measures in that regard," Oliphant said.

Oliphant voted against sending the bill to the Senate. 

Liberal MPs including Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Robert-Falcon Ouellette and David Lametti also voted against sending the bill to the Senate.

With files from Susana Mas and Kathleen Harris